Blog by Cheri Lovre

CMI Director Cheri Lovre

 Cheri Lovre, MS, Director of CMI, has over 30 years of experience in the field of prevention, crisis response, grief and trauma with specialization in working with youth.   Her greatest strength in responding in the moment to catastrophic events that are unfolding (when districts call and are still in lock-down) is helping them predict many dynamics and prepare for the hundreds of soon-to-surface challenges that feel like one more crisis.  Just knowing ahead of time allows administrators to prepare and mitigate the tsunami of needs that will arise.  Her work spans consulting to administrators, training counselors/school psychologists in acute trauma response, crafting messages for media, dealing with how students will re-enter the building following clean-up, and long-term recovery.

Because of her range of experience, she has developed a philosophy and a specific approach toward the unique requirements of survivors of both crisis and trauma. Her primary focus has been working  in prevention, mitigation, response and follow-up with schools in the aftermath of student and staff deaths, suicides, homicides, natural disasters, traumatic events, shootings, arrests of staff for internet child pornography, teacher-student sexual misconduct and a wide range of other tragedies that often overwhelm a district’s usual abilities to cope.

During the 1980′s, while employed by Marion Education Services District in Salem, OR, she worked extensively on creating training and materials for crisis response teams, which has become one of her specialties. Because of the lessons learned from responding to such a variety of incidents, she has authored 9 books and provided chapters for several trauma books, anthologies, and encyclopedias.  She is creating online courses in order to reach a greater audience.

 Following September 11, 2001

She received a call from the office of the Chancellor of New York on 9/11 as events were unfolding and spent much of the following two years serving the 29 “schools that fled” as the towers collapsed. She worked directly with administrators, counselors, teachers, parents and children, and integrated Systems Thinking into the activities used to help all regain stability. This event was the first time the United States had suffered circumstances with such powerful impact to schools in which the whole community support system – including emergency services -  was unavailable to assist the schools. Her time on the east coast included serving many schools and communities in New Jersey, where many of those who died in the towers had lived.

School Shootings

Ms. Lovre responded to a school shooting in May, 1998 when 24 were shot and four died in Springfield, OR.  Thurston High School is likely the only mass casualty school shooting that did not result in any lawsuits toward the school, toward any staff or any emergency workers or agencies.  Her work there was as direct support to the leadership of the crisis response team and administrators in the district. Just a quick thumbnail of details included consulting with administrators, debriefing staff from both schools who had deaths, co-leading (with the district lead psychologist) the organization of the entire response, providing update training on acute trauma for 150 crisis team members from across the county, leading community meetings, organizing the meeting for students and parents the following morning, organizing the first visit back to the school for students before having a “regular” school day, returning of belongings that had become a part of the crime scene and much, much more.

That summer she was asked to begin a three-year training program for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and she and two from that team were called into the aftermath of Columbine.  She spent a week on-site in each of those events.

Eleven months after the shooting at Thurston, she received a call from the superintendent’s office in Littleton (Jefferson County) when Columbine was still in lock-down, before the SWAT team had even arrived.  Her contact with them continued through the day.  She arrived the following day to spend a week working the administrators, principals, students groups and others.  The taxing ripple-out effect included dealing with a sudden surge of bomb threats to other buildings in their district, the exhaustion of attending so many funerals, helping student peer-helper groups know that they were now also “consumers” of services and that student needs at these times goes beyond what peer groups are designed to manage, and more.

The Tsunami

Following the tsunami in Asia, Ms. Lovre spent time working with an orphanage and school in Sri Lanka. This provided new and important lessons regarding the resiliency and needs of an already-traumatized population (orphans) who subsequently survived this catastrophic event together. Some of these new insights are valuable as we face the possible re-traumatization of American students who have been through one catastrophic event and then must cope with yet another.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

Following the hurricanes, Ms. Lovre provided both staff development and group work with students who had relocated because of the hurricanes. Some of her work was in domes, other assignments were in schools, particularly schools that were receiving high numbers of displaced students and those that had suffered flooding but were usable after cleaning.  Child after child had pictures of their home foundation – or less – and told stories about where their houses had been and shared their dreams or fears about whether their families would be able to return. There were some interesting correlations across the cultures in the artwork of survivors of the tsunami and those who had relocated because of hurricanes. Some of the similar responses unique to these different disasters held new insights about how children process these kinds of events and what kinds of safeguards their minds are able to utilize.  Her assignments included consulting with school administrators, leading parent meetings, assessing options for school attendance for displaced students and much more.

The shooting at Nickle Mines ~ an Amish community and their neighbors

Following the massacre, Ms. Lovre provided support to the community and families and provided training and support to schools in Pennsylvania.  She continues to have an ongoing relationship with that community and has returned multiple times.  Of all her responses, the remarkable forgiveness in action on the part of the Amish is the most gratifying and astonishing phenomenon she has ever witnessed.  The relationship between the families of the perpetrator and those whose children were shot continues to be active and continually growing in depth.  ‘

Her role in this response included working with the district to craft the message to media (the public school Public Information Officer for Solanco Schools managed the media for the Amish, whose religion does not permit them to be on camera), working with staff in the school to which the perpetrator’s children attended, crafting morning meetings for staff in all buildings (the whole county had been in lock-down), holding parent and community meetings, sessions with emergency workers, administrators, counselors/psychologists,  visiting some of the Amish families, and much more.

The Red Lion Machete Attack

Although no students died in this attack, it was a remarkable response.  A deranged man entered a kindergarten classroom with a machete.  The principal and kindergarten teacher who defended the children were taken via life-flight and, though they survived, sustained life-altering injuries.  Her role in this response started when the building was still in lock-down and staff called her cell phone.  She remained in contact with them by phone as students were evacuated, reunited with parents and began arrangements for getting through the weekend.  She flew there the following day and had back-to-back meetings with administrators, counselors and psychologists, teachers from that school, and much more.  Challenges faced and problem addressed included the immediate parent meeting, choosing clean-up team for school, bringing those kindergarten students back into the building the first time in a way that allowed them to feel safe, support for the substitute for that class and for the principal, both of whom were life-flighted and survived, crafting messages to the media, mobilizing local resources over time, providing an intervention strategy for acute trauma to local mental health professionals and much more.

Virginia Tech

As this horrific event continued to unfold, Ms. Lovre assisted in the local area and with institutions, parents, students and the media across the U.S.  She was not on the scene of the campus, but supporting districts that had concerns about how this would re-activate their own building’s past history with something traumatic.

Suicide Clusters and Cyber-bullying Suicides

Ms. Lovre has responded to several suicide clusters and cyber-related suicides in the US and Canada.

Threat Assessment

This fascinating field has changed more quickly than perhaps any other part of crisis prevention and response in the past two decades.  Studying under John VanDreal (author of Assessing Student Threats: A Handbook for Implementing the Salem-Keizer System), has given her a solid foundation in the dynamics that have long replaced initial attempts at profiling.  Adding this to her work in school climate has provided “the other side of the coin” in prevention.  She highly recommends this book and the Salem-Keizer model of threat assessment.

And In General…

Ms. Lovre is a Registered Traumatologist with Green Cross and has both taken training from and responded on behalf of the National Organization of Victim Assistance.  She has provided training and technical assistance to the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the U. S. Department of Education, the American School Counselors Association, and many other national and state educational agencies. (View partial list.) As school crises have grown and changed, her materials and training continue to reflect the cutting edge in her field and are used in all 50 states and seven countries.

Another outgrowth of her work has been to help states create state-wide teams of school administrators and counselors/social workers/psychologists to provide support to schools in the aftermath of major catastrophic events, such as shootings, natural and human-caused disasters, multiple death accidents and other events.

Ms. Lovre continues to integrate into her work the cutting-edge concepts of Compassion Fatigue, Professional Learning Communities, Systems Thinking, The Sanctuary Model of Trauma-Informed Care, and resiliency models to enhance the efficacy of her plans and publications. Her goal is to remain at the cutting edge, taking the whole field of crisis response to the level needed when responding to events as overwhelming and complex as terrorism and overwhelming natural disasters.

She also has a life!  Her loves in life includes family – including a delightful Italian daughter-in-law and new grandson ,  sailing, kayaking, fitness, international travel, wilderness and her Co-Motion bike.  She is a distance cyclist and participates annually in organized events, including the Seattle-to-Portland (which is 204 miles).  She has been a part of a cycling team that has raised about $40,000 for MS, participating in the City-to-Shore MS fundraiser event.

In Crisis Now?